We are going down… We have no target!

Published by Reinier Spruit on

Welcome aboard ladies and gentlemen… This is your captain speaking… Welcome aboard this flight to somewhere between here and where you actually want to get to. Flight time tonight could be anything from 1 hour to six hours depending on how well we do.

We will be flying at an altitude that we hope will be slightly higher than last year but not as high as we flew 4 years ago when flying was easier. We cannot at this stage commit to a specific altitude. Obviously we hope we will go reasonably high.
We are hoping for a smooth flight but if there’s any turbulence we’ll conclude air flight is unrealistic in this current climate and land immediately. 

Now, sit back and enjoy this flight!

This was the great opening from Toby Bourke at a recent meeting in his session Setting Targets. With the fabulous subtitle: “It doesn’t mean you are a bad person.”

Target setting is essential to improve your fundraising results. Toby: “A target is an essential unit of measurement in the assessment of ambition and performance.” A key underlying question is: are we capable to challenge ourselves enough? In general, I think not.

In a survey I did among 103 fundraisers I asked about targets in fundraising. But how do you use a target in your fundraising?

Normally you would set (or get) your target. You make your plan to reach the targets. You execute your plans. You measure your results and track progress against your target (and last year’s result to date) on a monthly base. You take action if projections show you are under-performing. In the end you evaluate why you have reached your target or not. And again, you take action to improve the conditions to reach your next target.

So, a couple of months ago I survey monkey-ed 103 fundraisers from around the world…

  • 29% of the respondents decide on their own targets. That sounds too easy. Some of you are capable of challenging yourself, but face it, the majority simply isn’t.
  • 53% proposes a target to their line manager who decides on the final target. This looks like a much better approach, but only if your boss actually challenges your target. If her/his approval is a formality, than you’re basically still deciding on your own target.
  • Only 14% receives a target from their boss. To me, this sounds like a better approach. First of all because you would expect your boss to know why more income is needed. In the end target setting needs to be related to the operational needs of the organization, right? Secondly, because targets from your boss are normally higher than you would set your own target. By having a healthy discussion and challenge some of the conclusions of previous plans, targets can easily increase.
  • And yes, 4% of the fundraisers out there don’t work with a target… Ouch!

I asked the participants of my poll to give their opinion on 3 statements and I got some inconclusive answers. So please help me out in the comments below this post if you understand what is going on.

(1) Target setting increases fundraising results.


Seems that’s 90% (strongly) agrees, which makes me happy. The other 10% might not understand English.


(2) Imposed target setting results in more ambitious targets than your own target setting.


The majority of my respondents don’t agree. I think that imposed target setting, by your manager, in the end yields higher results, because normally those targets are higher than you would normally set them yourself. Perhaps the 50% who don’t agree received a lower target from their boss… Perhaps people have different experience… I’d be happy to hear them in the comments below!


(3) Without fundraising targets we have nothing to monitor throughout the year.


The answers are pretty equally divided for this one. But also here I wonder what goes on in the minds of the fundraisers who don’t agree… How do you decide whether you’re on track? Sure, you compare your results to last year (please!), but that’s it?! Without a juicy orange carrot, I don’t believe you’re moving forward fast enough…

Does it have anything to do with being afraid of accountability?


Reinier Spruit

Reinier Spruit

Reinier is in love with fundraising since 2001. Ever since he's trying to improve his own fundraising skills and those of others. He's one of the original founders of 101fundraising. At the moment working with amazing clients through his one-man fundraising consultancy. Loves running and baseball.


Erik Visser · April 29, 2013 at 15:46

Very interesting… thanks for sharing. What I miss in your blogpost and survey results are the experiments and the unsertain outcome, the thighter budget, higher (unrealistic) targets, aggressive fundraising and the negative after effects, economic crisis, etc.

Fundraising isn’t as straightforward as flying a plane or taking a bus. Good fundraising is pioneering and should not all be about more money. Growth doesn’t work for the economy and it doesn’t work for fundraising.

We should focus on realistic sustainable relations. And therefore an organisation shouldn’t only look at there own year to year needs but also at the longterm needs of their contributors/partners. They can only spend their money/time ones. And you are not the answer to the meaning of life, the universe and everything. So it’s realistic to think they would probably balance their effort reserved for “good”.

What I noticed is when fundraisers get ambitious targets by their boss (who doen’t quite understands the dynamics) they are willing to kanabilize their long term projection to get there and even harm their own organisation, their contributors and other fundraising (good) organisations. And it’s reasonable to think that if one organization is successful another is paying the price for that succes. So I’m a bit sceptic about targets :)

Fundraising shouldn’t be about money. But about realationships. The contributor wants to do good. We should serve that need even if that means that the money will be spend somewhere else. We should go beyond the (car) salesmen attitude.

Charlie Hulme · April 29, 2013 at 16:14

‘Does it have anything to do with being afraid of accountability?’

Damian · April 29, 2013 at 16:57

I think that the reality is that budgets are usually set the wrong way round- focussing on what we think we could raise rather than what we need to raise for. It has been the case for such a long time- rather eloquently put by Toby me thinks!

    Coen van Veenendaal · April 29, 2013 at 19:55

    Very true! I couldn’t have said it better :-)

Coen van Veenendaal · April 29, 2013 at 19:53

It seems to me that you are pretty preoccupied with your own assumption that targets set by your manager are the only guarantee for a successful campaign. You must be aware what the risks of assumptions are ;-). I truly hope that fundraising will be done way differently then the ‘realistic’ approach in everyday business. By using the same tools, you will get the same sorry results. Keep the ‘bosses’ and ‘managers’ away from true fundraising and sparkle the intrinsic motivation by showing the best possible exemple. Targets are proven to be ineffective and result in taking inappropriate risks by the ones subject to these targets. Alpe d’HuZes is a perfect exemple of an organization that has no management and an unprecedented amount of passion shown by literally thousands of beautiful people. Please note that this organization has no targets :-)

    Reinier Spruit · April 29, 2013 at 21:13

    If I’m not mistaken I’ve heard of a 100 million euro target in one of the Alpe d’HuZes presentations :-)

Reinier Spruit · April 29, 2013 at 21:11

Hi everyone!

Always difficult to start a discussion, but this topic seems to hit the spot with a lot of people.

Apparently I’ve managed to divide the group quite evenly, because apart from the comments above, I’ve also received a few by email, who are arguing “using targets” vs “doing TRUE fundraising”. Actually, that was not my intention and is also not what I meant. As you can also see in my previous blog posts I’m a big believer of relationship fundraising. Surprisingly, using the word ‘target’ makes some of us believe that the a more donor centric approach is not possible anymore… That’s strange, because in my view they could be complementary and not mutually exclusive. Seems I’ve not expressed myself clearly enough.

Plus: having short term targets does not mean they are short term focused. You could think of many annual targets that are doing just that; saveguarding the longer term future. Fundraising is about the long term, that’s very clear.

Let me also add that by focusing on this topic I do not mean that using targets is the one and only way to do well in fundraising. I really don’t want to give the impression they are the only guarantee for a succesful campaign. I am well aware that there are many other variables that influence the outcome. Like I’m doing in many of my blogs I’ve picked one that could improve your results if used wisely.

I hope that gives some clarity!

(But, please keep commenting!)

    Kevin Baughen · April 30, 2013 at 10:48

    Knowing where we need to be heading and understanding clearly the resources we have to get there are key – spot on thoughts above in my opinion.

    However, in the western world we suffer horribly from short-termism which impacts decisions (and the resultant targets) across so many aspects of life… politicians care about the next election, not what’s right in the longer term.

    Finance Directors and CEOs care most about one year targets and give less priority to longer term sustainability. SO is it any wonder that the process of target setting which so frequently is driven from the top of organisations is skewed accordingly?

Larry C Johnson · April 30, 2013 at 18:49

Reinier, the results of your survey are discouraging, if not surprising. This along with the recent CompassPoint and Nonprofit Finance Fund reports all point to a sector that does not understand basic business finance and apparently thinks they can continue without it.

Those organizations are in for a rude awakening. Philanthropists–at all levels–are becoming more demanding in effectiveness and block, unrestricted funding from any source is fast becoming a dinosaur.

Should anyone wonder why the organizations that think strategically thrive and grow?

Enough of the whining and zero sum thinking!!

Great post, Reinier.

Martijn Uijlenhoed · May 2, 2013 at 10:14

In do totally agree with Reinier, as long as the targets set by the management are realistic. Often that is not the case and as a result of that it is quite impossible to achieve long term results (eg working on customer relations). And what management always “forget”: achieve skyhigh targets costs money. So, the higher the targets, the higher the fundraising budget should be.

Robert Korbei · July 10, 2013 at 13:05

From my side of the thinking part of the answer is:
You mix up managing of KPIs and managing of motivation too much.

And yes, we get our target from the boss and I like it.

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